Allison Moon's debut novel, "Lunatic Fringe," is one of the most difficult novels I've read as far as classification. "Fiction" was easy, as was "Series," since the second novel is due anon.
Where else? "YA-Paranormal" would work, except that there are most definitely some sex scenes--beautifully, explicitly rendered sex scenes that would probably warp a lot of 12-year-old readers' minds. Yep. Definitely not a YA-anything book. I finally settled on "Horror" and "Mystery/Thriller." Neither comes close to describing adequately what happens in "Lunatic Fringe," but I don't have a sui generis shelf, so they will have to do.
Lexie Clarion sets off for her Freshman year of college. Her mother ran off years ago, and it's just been Lexie and her father for years. The family doesn't have much money, but Lexie has won a scholarship to prestigious Milton College, a progressive college about 50 miles from home.
As Lexie moves into her dorm, she gets some help from Blythe and Mitch, two women who'd stopped to kiss against Lexie's dorm. The two girls carry most of Lexie's boxes upstairs. Blythe invites Lexie to a weekend brunch with "The Pack," a group of friends who share a house near campus.
When Lexie shows up for the brunch, she's a little surprised that there are no men there. Then various members of The Pack flirt, kiss, and cuddle with one another. Lexie isn't freaked-out by women kissing--she's never swung one way or the other as far as her sexual orientation--but she feels lost trying to follow the feminist nature of the conversations she encounters. Before the night's over, she's heard a lot, and she's even kissed a girl.
Before too long, Lexie finds herself involved with an older woman--a hell of a lot older, it turns out--and she has embraced her newfound sexuality most enthusiastically.
There's always talk of werewolves, though. There is a breed called the Rare wolf that is especially lethal. They can turn even when it's not full moon. Indeed, The Pack is devoted to eradicating them. What they do is lure a Rare wolf into a situation where he gets excited and starts to turn, then they subdue him, take him to a secret cave, force him to turn completely, then kill him. Lexie runs away from her first hunt; she couldn't stand to see the violence against an apparent human.
Lexie settles into a passionate relationship with Archer, a woman who lives in an isolated cabin deep in the woods. Lexie learns more and more about the forest, as well as a whole damn lot about sex. In time, she learns more about Archer's nature, as well as her own.
One weekend, three obnoxious frat-boys are killed during a camping trip. The carnage was definitely lycanthropic in nature, and Lexie is surprised when she discovers the killer's identity. It leads to a conflict between her lover and her friends in The Pack. Everyone involved has secrets. In the process, Lexie finds strength and wisdom within herself, and makes some difficult decisions.
I really liked this book. The story kept me hooked from early-on till the final page. What's weird, though, is that I wasn't necessarily in a rush to figure out the book's secrets. I was satisfied enough with the story at each stage, that I could enjoy the ride, knowing the answers would come.
Lexie does a lot of growing-up in her first semester, far more than simply losing her virginity. When she was moving to college, her goal was to be bold and say "YES" when presented with a new opportunity. It takes her some practice to get used to saying "yes," but she does. In the end, she learns that sometimes "no" is the more difficult answer, especially when her answer means she and others will be hurt.
Some of the reviews I read of "Lunatic Fringe" complained that the novel is basically a treatise on feminism. It isn't. Nearly all of the "feminism" arises as part of conversations Lexie has with members of The Pack. The Pack members are feminists, some of them ardently so, so it only makes sense that they would discuss the topic, especially with a newbie. The same thing would happen with sports fans, xenophiles, Young Republicans, or any other group. We talk about things that are important to us. Some friends and I have in-depth discussions about classic baseball that would bore the crap out of non-fans. Yes, there are some anti-phallocentrism rants in the book, but they occur organically in characters' dialogue, not as an unwelcome interruption to the story. (Tom Robbins used to do this a lot)
The story is well-told, and the werewolf/Rare wolf lore seeps through the whole book, rather than being something Lexie discovers only after some grisly murder. "Lunatic Fringe" isn't set up like a typical horror novel or movie. There's no "Holy crap! There are really werewolves!!!" moment. Lexie has been aware of the lore her whole life. Her connection to it...that part she has to learn.
I admit, some part of me picked this book, thinking "LESBIAN WEREWOLVES?? Awesome!" That was such a seemingly odd pairing, that I couldn't resist reading this book.
The beautiful surprise was that "Lunatic Fringe" turned out to be an intelligent, thoughtful, well-rendered book, regardless of its subject matter. (Although Lesbian Werewolves really ARE mighty badass)